TUSCALOOSA _ Junior safety Mark Barron, the University of Alabama's leading tackler this season, has been ruled out of the Crimson Tide's bowl game after having surgery to fix a torn pectoral muscle. Coach Nick Saban made the announcement Thursday.
"Mark Barron suffered a muscle tear and had successful surgery to repair it," Saban said in a release. "He's already started the rehab process, but he will be out for the bowl game."
Recovery time can be anywhere from one to four months depending on the severity of the injury, whether it's partial tear or a full rupture. That it required surgery implies that the damage was on the more serious end.
The injury will influence Barron's decision on whether to go early to the National Football League. He was believed to be roughly 50-50 on returning before the injury, but could now be doubtful for the NFL Combine set for Feb. 23-March 1. The deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves eligible for the draft is usually in mid-January.
Barron sustained the injury while trying to swat the ball out of Emory Blake's hands on Auburn's first touchdown last week, the 36-yard reception with 5:08 remaining in the first half. Later in the game he couldn't make the play on Terrell Zachery's 70-yard touchdown despite being in position for a potential interception or tackle.
"I couldn't pick my arm up," Barron said following Friday's 28-27 loss to No. 2 Auburn. "I have to get an MRI. They don't know how bad it is."
Under normal circumstances Barron probably wouldn't have played the second half, but the Crimson Tide was already dangerously thin at position, with walk-on Will Lowery and true freshmen Nick Perry the backups and Robby Green suspended for the season.
True freshman Jarrick Williams hasn't played since Duke due to a shoulder injury, and will likely qualify for a medical redshirt.
Lowery has played in all 12 games this season, with 30 tackles and two interceptions. Perry has played in four games and has one tackle.
Wesley Neighbors might also be an option. After recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery he played in 10 games and made 11 tackles.
Barron, probably the Tide's defensive MVP this season, has made 75 tackles, one fewer than last year when he was named both first-team All-SEC and third-team All-American. He's also had three interceptions, two sacks, nine passes defended and two quarterback hurries.
In 2009 he led the SEC in both interceptions (seven) and passes defended (18). With teams going away from him more this season, Alabama has made 21 interceptions despite Barron being the only returning starter in the secondary.
"Mark's a really good, a quiet guy, but a leader in his own way," Saban said last month. "He's one of those guys who sort of speaks softly but carries a big stick. He's really respected by his peers and his teammates. In his own is a very good leader, is a good person and has played some outstanding football here for us.
"Last year he had a phenomenal year as well as this year. He's one of the leaders on our team in terms of production points, making plays and doing the right things. It's important to him, he pays attention and he's really one of those guys who does everything he can do to help our team be all that it can be."
McElroy named Wooden finalist
Senior quarterback Greg McElroy was named one of five finalists for the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup, which goes to the most outstanding role model among college athletes.
The other finalists are basketball players Kimberly Reeves of Agnes Scott College and Sarah Leyman of Amherst College, and football players Quinton Carter of Oklahoma and Daniel Crawford of Denison University.
The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on January 25 at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
McElroy is just about the only Alabama football player still in the running for a major postseason award.
Here's the rundown:
William Campbell Trophy (scholar-athlete, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy): Greg McElroy finalist. Winner announced Dec. 7. Paul Hornung Award (most versatile): Trent Richardson on watch list. Finalists announced in early December. Rimington Trophy (center): William Vlachos on watch list. Finalists announced Dec. 6. Unitas Golden Arm (senior quarterback): Greg McElroy named finalist. Winner announced in December. Wuerffel Trophy (community service with outstanding achievement): Greg McElroy finalist. Winner announced Dec. 7. Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup (best role model): Greg McElroy finalist. Winner announced Jan. 25.
No one from Alabama being considered Heisman Trophy: Finalists announced Dec. 6 (Mark Ingram reigning winner). Burlsworth Trophy (walk-on): Will Lowery nominated. Ted Hendricks Award (defensive end): Marcell Dareus was on watch list. Sports Illustrated's Sportsmen of the Year: Greg McElroy was nominated. Manning Award (quarterback, includes bowls): Greg McElroy was on watch list. Butkus Award (linebacker): Dont'a Hightower was named semifinalist, Nico Johnson was on watch list. (Rolando McClain reigning winner). Doak Walker Award (running back): Mark Ingram was named semifinalist. Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Mark Barron was on watch list. Outland Trophy (interior lineman): James Carpenter and Barrett Jones were on watch list. Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player): Mark Barron, Marcell Dareus, Dont'a Hightower and Robert Lester were all on watch list. Walter Camp Award (Player of the year): Mark Ingram was on watch list. Fred Biletnikoff Award (wide receiver): Julio Jones was a semifinalist. Lott Trophy (defensive impact player): Mark Barron was a quarterfinalist. Maxwell Award (outstanding player): Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Greg McElroy were all on the watch list. Bednarik Award (defensive player): Mark Barron, Marcell Dareus and Dont'a Hightower were all on the watch list. Davey O'Brien Award (quarterback): Greg McElroy was on watch list. Rotary Lombardi Award (lineman): James Carpenter, Marcell Dareus and Dont'a Hightower were all on the watch list. John Mackey Award (tight end). Lou Groza Award (kicker). Ray Guy Award (punter).
Report: Colorado hires coach
The Denver Post reported that Jon Embree has verbally accepted Colorado's offer to become its next head football coach, and hire Eric Bieniemy as offensive coordinator.
"Embree's going to be the head coach and Bieniemy's going to be the offensive coordinator," former Colorado coach Bill McCartney told the newspaper. "Take it to the bank and hang your hat on it."
Alabama offensive coach Jim McElwain interviewed for the opening on Monday and was thought to be a finalist along with Embree and Bieniemy, who are former Colorado players.